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Lions @ Cowboys: The Day After, By The Numbers

A long, loving look at the Cowboys gutsy playoff win against the Lions. By the numbers, natch.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

8: The number of times the Cowboy had lost in eight previous playoff contests wherein they trailed by double digits at halftime. In other words, they were oh-fer in franchise history when being that far behind at halftime of a post-season game. And the last time they overcame a 14-point deficit in a playoff game was 1980, when Danny While led Dallas to a thrilling comeback over the Atlanta Falcons. That was 34 years ago; so, any way you crack it, yesterday's rally was one for the history books.

How did they manage this historic comeback? Read on, fellow BTBers, read on.

18: consecutive games Tony Romo has had at least 60% completions. On Sunday, it didn't come easily. Against a nasty pass rush from what he characterized as the best defense the Cowboys have faced this season (an assessment with which I cannot disagree), Romo started the game 2-6, and was 6-13 for 68 yards, with three sacks, after the Cowboys' first four drives.

From that point onward, however, he went 12-17 for 227. The point here is that Romo not only raised his completion percentage but in a game that, he told reporters in his post-game presser, reminded him of the Minnesota playoff tilt in 2009 (you know, the one where the Cowboys offense couldn't move the ball and he was getting shellacked), he raised his game.

.666: Romo's completion percentage on third and fourth downs. For the day, Number Nine was 8-of-12 for 195 yards and two touchdown passes on the money downs. And these weren't five yard completions on third-and-tens; no, he produced first downs on 8-of-14 passes in those situations, for a neat 57 percent. Making his performance all the more impressive is the fact that, coming into the contest, the Lions’ defense had allowed a 35.6 Total QBR on third and fourth down this season, good for seventh-best in the league.

51: The total yards lost on the six sacks Romo took on Sunday, a season high. The quality and tenor of these sacks changed dramatically after the Cowboys' first four drives; the three mentioned in the above Tweet all occurred on second down, where the Lions brilliant defensive coordinator Teryl Austin had a nice plan in place to combat what Scott Linehan had been doing on second downs over the course of the Cowboys' December offensive explosion: going to spread formations.

On second downs early in the game, Austin dialed up a series of exotic blitzes that confounded Romo and his offensive mates. The Lions often crowded the line, forcing the Cowboys offensive line to guess which blitzers would be coming free - and they were guessing wrong. Once Dallas figured out what Detroit was doing, however, the Lions never had another jail break. All three second half sacks came when Romo held the ball too long in an effort to make a play. While he can be criticized for this, notice at what point on the field the three second half sacks (number 4-6) happened:

Sack 4: Detroit 10
Sack 5: Detroit 18
Sack 6: Detroit 23

All three happened in or just outside of the red zone - the area of the field where Romo likely felt that a Dan Bailey field goal was a given, even if he was sacked, and was trying to make a play to engineer a touchdown. Note that two of the three occurred on third down, where this would have absolutely been the case.

11: As in "11" personnel (three wide receivers). I've noted that the wind shifted after the Cowboys first four possessions. What key offensive adjustments did they make that allowed them to move the ball? I'll start by turning to neithan20000's insightful post-game piece:

So what changed? The answer is simple but important. Dallas spread out the field and went against tendency. They forced Detroit's defense to react instead of simply teeing off on the run every first down, and the pass on every shotgun snap. They also went predominantly three-wide, forcing Detroit to play in the nickel. Because Dallas was able to run out of this formation, it put Detroit in a numbers disadvantage, and forced them to guess whether Dallas was going to run or pass.

As usual, our boy Neithan is right. Check it: On their first three drives, the Cowboys started by deploying in 12 personnel on first down, and then mixing it up a bit on second down. From the fourth drive onward, however, they had 18 first down plays, and lined up in 11 personnel on a staggering sixteen of them. Although that important fourth drive didn't net much (7 plays, 31 yards), it set up the schematic program for the rest of the game, and the Cowboys scored on every possession thereafter (save for Dan Bailey's shocking missed field goal).

.500: The Cowboys conversion percentage on third and fourth downs, where they had 8 conversions in 16 attempts. Although Dallas wasn't spectacular on third down, going 6-14, they made up for it in part by going 2-2 on fourth down, adding a DeMarco Murray touchdown on fourth-and-one to the aforementioned Witten 21-yard completion. In a game where nothing came easily, Romo and Company scratched and clawed to manufacture conversions and to sustain offense.

And here's what is so amazing about what they were able to do: Dallas' average to-go distance on third down was 9.1 yards. In other words, they were able to convert half of the situations in which they were staring down the barrel of a long, 9.1-yard gun. Although the Cowboys failed to convert both of their third-and-ones, they did manage to convert third and seven, eight, 10 (twice) and 12 (twice). That's pretty darned clutch...

2: The number of Dallas' 10+ play drives. Both came in second half, and both resulted in TDs. As I've noted before, the Cowboys' offense has demonstrated in 2014 that they can win more than one way. Simply put, they can rely on the running game to sustain possession, and they can turn to the passing game to create explosive plays. In recent weeks, we have seen them do both in the same game - a formula that was on display on Sunday, where they used a 76-yard catch-and run by Terrance Williams to cut into a nasty deficit, and then engineered two long, painstaking drives in the second half.

But here's the interesting thing: while they ran much more effectively after halftime than they did before the break, the Cowboys sustained offense largely through the passing game, mixing short receptions (passes that went for 7, 2, 3 and 8 yards) with more explosive gains (Dez Bryant's 43-yard catch and run; Cole Beasley's 19-yard scamper on a bubble screen; Jason Witten's 21-yard gainer).

94: The combined numbers of the Cowboys primary receivers not named Dez Bryant. On Sunday, Dez Bryant caught three passes (on three targets, so the Cowboys smartly didn't try to funnel it to him at all costs). Indeed, they allowed other guys to make plays and hit Bryant when Detroit gave them an opportunity. On the afternoon, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams caught seven balls (on 14 targets) for 155 yards. I've already noted how Williams's huge catch-and run kept Dallas in the game; Beasley had critical receptions on Dallas' first two second half scoring drives, and drew a key pass interference penalty to give them a first down on the game winning drive.

12: The number of years Jason Witten has been in the NFL. For nine of those seasons, he has been Romo's security blanket - and for eight of them, he has been Jason Garrett's as well. Nowhere was this more in evidence than on what Witten later characterized as the biggest reception of his career, the 21-yarder on fourth and six that allowed Dallas to retain possession on their final scoring drive. And the way he got open - by cutting to a cleared-out middle after the defender undercut his hook route - was emblematic of his career: smart, subtle, yet brutally effective.

6: The number of yards needed on the key fourth down I just wrote about. The crucial 4th-and-6 was Cowboys’ first try this season to convert fourth down needing 4 or more yards. Faced with the season's most mouth-drying moment, Garrett didn't flinch. In a neat bit of symmetry, the Lions had faced a similar fourth down near midfield (the Cowboys were at Detroit's 42; the Lions were at the Dallas 46), and Jim Caldwell opted not to go for it. After a delay-of-game, the Lions faced the exact same situation as Dallas would a minute later.

Both teams faced 4th and 6. The Lions punted; the Cowboys went for it because, as Jason Garrett later told a reporter "when you are at the Masters, you don't lay up." Lions fans (and Eagles fans, check out this crazed piece on BGN) can get as mad as they want about the officiating in Sunday's game, but the bald truth is that the Cowboys made plays in the final 8:25 and the Lions didn't. 8:25 is more than half a quarter of football; that's lots of time for the Lions to make a play (or several plays) to win the game. More importantly, the Cowboys' head coach went for the pin, whereas his Lions counterpart aimed for the safe, fat part of the green.

The comeback wasn't all thanks to the offense, however...

8:41: The time remaining in the third quarter when the Lions logged their final score, a 37-yard Matt Prater field goal. That means the Cowboys' defense pitched a shutout for just shy of the final 24 minutes of gametime, or the better part of the second half. Here are the results of Detroit's six second half possessions, the last two of which were effectively one drive: INT, FG, PUNT, PUNT, FUMBLE, FUMBLE. That's some pretty special sauce by Rod Marinelli and his boys.

10:56: The time remaining in the second quarter when the Cowboys defense began to turn the game around. While offense muddled about (Dallas' first four drives: PUNT, PUNT, PUNT, PUNT), the defense kept the game from getting away. With just under eleven minutes until halftime, the Lions had run 23 plays for a fat 196 yards and had notched a nice round 10 first downs.

At that point, Jeremy Mincey somehow managed a Stafford sack, they coaxed two incompletions from the Lions' signal-caller, and the tide had been stemmed. After that point in the game, the Lions ran 44 plays, gaining only 201 yards and nine first downs. And a key to their success was to make the Lions less balanced; Detroit ran on 12 of their first 23 plays, but only on ten of their final 44 snaps. And this was of great benefit, since...

.363: Matthew Stafford's batting average on passes of ten or more yards downfield. Stafford completed his first 10+ yard downfield pass for a 51-yard touchdown. The rest of the game, on passes thrown more than 10 yards downfield, Stafford was a meager 3-of-10 with an interception.

3: The number of sacks tallied by the Cowboys on Sunday. And here's the key: two of the three came late, on the Lions' final drive. Back in 2012, I wrote a post on the Cowboys' pass rush success (or lack thereof) on third down, concluding that they were notoriously un-clutch when it came to sacking rival quarterbacks. The 2014 Cowboys may rank in the bottom quarter in sacks, but during their stretch run, they’ve found a pass rush (12 sacks in the last five games) and, at least on Sunday, those came precisely when they didn't come during the DeMarcus Ware years: in the clutch.

34: The pick where DeMarcus Lawrence was selected in the 2014 draft. Until the game's final meaningful play, Lawrence wasn't having a particularly good game. He was called for a holding penalty on a second-quarter punt and then had what could have been the signature bonehead play of this and many other years. But darn it if the rook didn't come up big when the situation was most desperate. On fourth- and-three, he burst past Detroit left tackle Reilly Reiff, hit Stafford, got a strip-sack and recovered the ball to seal the win. Nice moment to get your first NFL sack, rook.

82: The advantage in total yards from scrimmage enjoyed by the Lions on the afternoon. The Lions ran more plays, and averaged more yards per play, more yards per pass, and more yards per rush for the game. So, how did the Cowboys win? Two reasons:

80: Hidden yards accumulated by the Cowboys. Bill Parcells used to make a big deal out of what he called "hidden yards": return yardage on turnovers and in the kicking game, as well as cumulative differences in the kicking game. Let's look at this more closely. I'll start with something former Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe once said:

"Your punter is one of the most important parts of your football team. It really adds right into your total offense. If you have a punter who's outpunting the opponent by five to ten yards every time you exchange punts, you just add that onto your total offense. That's what you call hidden yardage."

Yesterday, both punters offered four punts: Sam Martin was 4-142; Chris Jones was 4-192, which is an even 50 yard advantage on the same number of punts, for a nice 12.5 hidden yards per boot.

In addition, the Cowboys had 40 return yards (35 on kickoffs, 5 on Kyle Wilber's interception), while Detroit managed only ten return yards (eight on kickoffs, two on punts). That's a total of 80 hidden yards the Cowboys found, a total that essentially negated the Lions' "visible yardage" advantage.

2: The turnover advantage enjoyed by the Cowboys, who collected three turnovers to the Lions' one (and that was DeMarcus Lawrence's fumble). Going into the game, the thought was that Matt Stafford would be the more likely of the two quarterbacks to turn the ball over. Indeed, after keeping the ball safe in the first 30 minutes, Stafford committed three turnovers after halftime. And, as the fine gents at ESPN Stats and Info tell us, quarterbacks are 0-12 this season when committing three or more turnovers in the second half.

91,410: The number of fans at the game, the vast majority of whom were Cowboys fans. After establishing an early-season meme by selling their tickets to rival fans wanting to come and gawk at Jerryworld, the Cowboys have been enjoying increasingly rabid crowds. Yesterday's took the cake; it was easily the loudest crowd all year, and my good friend Knowledgeable Cowboys Fan, who has been a season ticket holder since they opened AT&T Stadium, texted me after the game to say, "Loudest the stadium has ever ever been (yes, two "evers")" I cannot disagree; the roar we heard when Terrance Williams scored the game-winner was awesome. When was the last time you felt the roar through your television when the Cowboys made a big play?

28: The number of Romo's game-winning drives since 2006, when he first assumed the starter's mantle. That's tops in the league in that time span.

34: The number of Dallas' postseason wins - an NFL best. In addition, the Cowboys enter the NFC divisional round for the 25th time in franchise history.

And, finally:

8: The number of wins by the Packers at home in 2014, which neatly matches the Cowboys' 8-0 record on the road this season. Next Sunday, we'll be treated to the proverbial unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.

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